Friday, July 28, 2017

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa, a collection of well over 1,000 blog posts and pages on a wide variety of topics, created and maintained by Nicholas Johnson since 2006.

Quick Links
* Most recent blog essays: "GOP Healthcare: Just 'Tell 'em I lied,'" July 28, 2017

"Acceptable, Available, Affordable Housing," July 22, 2017

"Unfit To Be The Ruler," July 4, 2017

"Not All Criticism is Defamation," July 4, 2017 [embedded: "Is Superintendent Criticism 'Defamation'?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 28, 2017, p. 7A]

"Kushner's Back-Channel Multiple Tragedies," May 29, 2017

"Trump's 'Just Politics' Defense," May 28, 2017

"How to Start a Governorship," May 25, 2017

"Why Ned Neutrality is Your Friend," May 22, 2017 [embedded: "Why Net Neutrality is Our Friend," "Insight," The Gazette, June 2, 2017, p. A6]

"Mediacom's 1000% Interest Late Payment Fee," May 9, 2017

"What Trump Needs to Know About Libel," May 1, 2017

"A Millionaire by Age 30? Here's How," April 26, 2017

"Airlines, Crisis Communications 101, and Prohibited Speech," April 18, 2017

"Of Missiles and Teachers," April 7, 2017 [embedded: "Spending on Military Always Comes at a Cost," Nicholas Johnson, "Insight & Books," The Gazette, April 9, 2017, p. D5]

"Collusion, Treason, Trump and Putin," April 5, 2017

"How to Save Highter Ed," March 19, 2017 [embedded: "Saving Higher Ed; Step1: Listen to What Iowans Want," Nicholas Johnson, "Insight & Books," The Gazette, March 19, 2017, p. D1, and "Solutions for Iowa Higher Ed's Woes," Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 12, 2017, p. A7] ]

"Resources for Trump Watchers," February 11, 2017

"Who Are We?" January 31, 2017 (a response to President Trump's ill-considered travel ban)

"No Elephants in the Room," January 15, 2017 (NFL football)

"Educating In and For a Digital Age; The Vast Waistline & Other Challenges to Education as We Knew It," January 14, 2017 [text of remarks delivered at 4CAST - Campus Academic Strategies and Technology Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, January 12, 2017]

"Eastern Iowa's Declaration of Human Rights," January 5, 2017 (contains "Focus on Our Common Values," The Gazette, January 1, 2017, p. D2)

"Tracking Trump," November 15, 2016 (More like a Web site with links to associated pages than like an individual blog essay, this is both a daily report and a repository of news and opinion regarding President-Elect Donald J. Trump from the day after the election (i.e., November 9) through the day of his inauguration as president on January 20, 2017.)

"Democratic Party's Past -- and Future," November 9, 2016

"Hillary's New Emails: A Solution for FBI Director Comey," October 31, 2016

"An Outrageous Merger," October 29, 2016

"Republicans Need to Get Their Party Back From Trump," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 20, 2016, p. A7

"Iowa's Top Republicans' Major Mistake," October 13, 2016

"Law, Social Norms and Trump," October 2, 2016

"Donald Trump's Barrel of Squirrels," September 25, 2016

"First Thoughts on 911 -- 15 Years Later," September 11, 2016

"At Last, the Agnostic, Insomniac, Dyslexic Answer," September 10, 2016

"Trump Might Not Be Blundering in Race," September 9, 2016

"Labor Day for All 2016," September 4, 2016

"Our Revolution: Yes; But First Some Questions," August 31, 2016

"The Doping Dilemma," August 17, 2016

"Maybe This Explains Trump," August 15, 2016

When Words Can Kill," August 10, 2016

"The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It," July 29, 2016

"Why Trump May Win; Discouraged By The Democratic Party's Self-Inflicted Wounds," July 25, 2016

"Doing It Ourselves," July 24, 2016

"An Answer to Athletes' Doping?" July 23, 2016

"Cancer: 'Of Course; But Maybe,'" July 13, 2016

"Clinton-Lynch Tarmac Talk; 'What Were They Thinking?'" July 4, 2016

"Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 17, 2016, p. A5

"Keeping Up With ISIS; There Is Another Explanation for Orlando," June 14, 2016

"On Being, Doing and 'Compromise;' What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion," June 9, 2016

"When 'The Morning After' Looks Even Worse," June 8, 2016

"Searching for the Media's Soul," June 7, 2016

"My Take on Supervisor Race," June 4, 2016

"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

* Most recent UI & President Harreld-related items & comments:

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016 (an expanded version of The Daily Iowan's excerpt, above)

UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

Cessation of Ongoing Harreld Repository [Feb. 29]. For the past six months, since the Iowa Board of Regents' selection of Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, September 1, 2015, this blog has endeavored to compile a relatively complete repository of links to, and comments about, the news stories and opinion pieces dealing with the Board of Regents, President Harreld, and related items of relevance to higher education in general and the University of Iowa in particular. They are contained in the blogs for September-October, November, December, 2015, and January and February, 2016 (all linked from this page). I thought it would be a useful resource for those looking for a single source to follow the saga, as well as for those in future years wishing to do serious research, or merely inform themselves, about this important slice of UI's history. Response from readers indicates it has at least provided the former function. Now as they say, "as a concession to the shortness of life," and a desire to get back to other writing, I am going to reclaim those daily hours of research for other tasks. As major UI stories worthy of individual blog essays come along they will, of course be blogged about from time to time.

For research beyond February 29, 2016, you might start with this list (any omissions were inadvertent; email me suggestions for more):

University of Iowa AAUP, https://twitter.com/UIowaAAUP

Mark Barrett, Ditchwalk, http://ditchwalk.com (look for Harreld Hire Updates)

Iowans Defending Our Universities, https://twitter.com/IowansDefending

John Logsdon, https://www.facebook.com/johnlogsdon.jr, and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/JohnLogsdon

Josiah Pickard, https://twitter.com/uimemory

. . . and well-crafted search terms in Google. -- N.J., February 29, 2016
_______________

More Detailed Contents, Links & Guide

The most recent blog essay (as distinguished from the entries listing UI-related material) is:"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

See more, below.

University of Iowa, most recent: The most recent month's collection in the ongoing repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters is: UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

University of Iowa, earlier: Earlier collections of, and individual blog essays about, the repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters are:
UI President Harreld - Jan. 2016," January 1, 2016

"UI President Harreld - Dec. 2015," December 1, 2015

"UI President Harreld - Nov. 2015," November 1, 2015

"Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2-October 31, 2015

Recent terrorism-related blog essays

Recent TIF-related blog essays

Recent other than (1) University of Iowa, (2) terrorism, or (3) TIF-related topics:
"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice: Senate Ignoring the People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?" March 23, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Random Thoughts on Tuition-Free Iowa Universities," March 11, 2016
"Water," February 29, 2016
"The State of the Media," February 28, 2016
"Our Communities' Second Priority," February 7, 2016
"Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016
Why Nobody 'Wins' the Iowa Caucus," February 1, 2016
"Caucus With Your Heart And Head -- For Bernie," January 28, 2016
"Why I'm Caucusing for Sanders and You Should Too," January 22, 2016
"Reasons for Hope in 2016," December 25, 2015
"Feeling the Bern at The Mill," December 9, 2015
"Anyone for Democracy," November 22, 2015
General instructions on searching by heading, date, or topic

(1) If you've come to FromDC2Iowa and landed on this page, rather than what you are looking for, it is because this is the default page, the opening page, for this blog.

(2) Many visitors are looking for recent blog posts. At the bottom of this page you will find suggestions. At this time they include: (1) material related to the Iowa Board of Regents process for selecting President Bruce Harreld, and his ongoing performance in office, (2) terrorism, ISIS and Syrian refugees, and (3) TIFs, and other transfers of taxpayers' money to the wealthy.

(3) It is also possible to go directly to specific blog posts within this blog. Here's how:

First, go to the top of this page where you will see the headline, "Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide" and click on it there (not as reproduced in this sentence). That will clean this page by removing blog posts from earlier this month.

In that right hand column you will find two ways of accessing individual blog posts:
(1) Blog Archive. The first is under the bold heading "Blog Archive.". You will see the years from 2006 to the present. Click on a year, and the months of that year will appear. Click on a month and the individual headlines for the blog posts during that month appear. Click on a headline and you will be transferred to that blog post. (Once there, you will see the unique URL address for that blog post that you can use in the future, or share with a friend, as a way to reach it directly.)

(2) Google Search Nick's Blog or Website. Immediately beneath the Blog Archive is the bold heading "Google Search Nick's Blog or Website," followed by an empty box, and the instructions, "Insert terms above; then click here." (Although it offers the option to search the "Nicholas Johnson Web Site" as well, it is set to the default: "FromDC2Iowa Blog.") Use whatever search terms you think most appropriate, such as "University of Iowa," "terrorism," "TIFs," or "Harreld." Your click will open up a Google search Web page listing the relevant blog posts (if any) with the links you can click on to see them.

University of Iowa's new President Bruce Harreld.
Looking for the blog post containing extensive repository of documents, news, opinion pieces (updated daily) from September 2 through October 31, 2015, regarding the Iowa Board of Regents' process, and early selection of UI President-elect Bruce Harreld? -->Click here<--

For November 2015 coverage -- with documents, news stories, and opinion pieces -- from his first day on the job, November 2, through November 30, 2015 -->Click here<--

For the December 2015 coverage -->Click Here<--

For the January 2016 coverage -->Click Here<--

In addition to these blog posts, which primarily contain chronological lists of documents, news articles and opinion pieces -- along with some relatively brief commentary about some of the items -- there are also the following more traditional blog essays and newspaper columns by Nicholas Johnson on these subjects:

"Hiring Candid, Courageous University Presidents," August 29, 2015

"Should Bruce Harreld Be Given Serious Consideration in UI Search?" embedded in "Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2, 2015

"Better Ways to Pick a New UI President," The Gazette, September 27, 2015, embedded in "Seven Steps for Transitioning Universities," September 27, 2015

"UI's President Could Have Been Chris Christie," October 3, 2015

"Parallels Between School Systems Staggering," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 10, 2015, embedded in "UI and Higher Education in Context," November 9, 2015

"Trouble in River City: Corruption Creep," December 13, 2015

"Quick Draw Harreld and Why Language Matters," December 17, 2015

Terrorism, ISIS, Syrian Refugees.
Understanding Terrorist Thugs," The Daily Iowan, December 3, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Sober Risk Assessment Needed to Respond to Terror," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Syria's Refugees: Job One and Job Two," The Gazette, November 1, 2015

"Is U.S. Response Strengthening ISIS?" September 19, 2014

For additional speech texts, columns and blog posts on these subjects, see "Samples of Nicholas Johnson's Prior Writing on Terrorism and War"

TIFs and Other Crony Capitalism Schemes For links to 44 blog essays on these topics since 2006 see, "TIFS: Links to Blog Essays"

# # #

GOP Healthcare: Just 'Tell 'em I lied'

An aide to Louisiana Governor "Uncle" Earl Long (1939-40; 1948-52; 1956-60), having faced a group of constituents demanding to meet with the Governor, and angry over his failure to deliver them a promised road, asked Long what the aide should tell the crowd. Governor Long replied,

"Tell 'em I lied."

-- Louisiana Governor Earl Long [full story in Endnote, below]
Why do the Republican members of the House and Senate seemingly feel compelled, like those who self-flagellate their backs with knives and chains, to march on to ever greater self-inflicted wounds, in order to make good on their promise to "repeal Obamacare"? [Photo credit: Gov. Earl K. Long speaking to the Legislature in June 1956; New Orleans Times-Picayune archive.]

Surely they are aware that the titular head of their party -- the President of the United States, Donald Trump -- with all of his lies and broken promises to supporters, has nonetheless enjoyed a successful political career. After all, as he's said of the media, "I'm president and they're not." [Michael D. Shear, "'I'm President and They're Not': Trump Attacks Media at Faith Rally," New York Times, July 2, 2017, p. A18.] As the Times has reported, "There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths."
"[H]ere are the numbers for the president’s first 100 days.
492: The number of false or misleading claims made by the president. That’s an average of 4.9 claims a day.
10: Number of days without a single false claim. (On six of those days, the president golfed at a Trump property.)
5: Number of days with 20 or more false claims. (Feb. 16, Feb. 28, March 20, April 21 and April 29, his 100th day in office.)" Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, "President Trump’s First 100 days: The Fact Check Tally," Washington Post, May 1, 2017.

And see, David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson, "Trump's Lies," New York Times, Updated July 21, 2017 (with chronological itemized list; "There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president — of either party — has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.")
As much as we may admire the congressional Republicans' ethical desire to keep commitments to constituents, why can't they, with regard to this healthcare business, follow their President's example, and that of Governor Earl Long, and simply say, "We lied"?

In fact, they even have a much more acceptable explanation than "we lied." I would suggest they consider something like this:
When Obamacare became law we did not like it. You did not like it. We did not like the process the Democrats used to get it enacted. During the years since, our efforts to repeal it have been frustrated by President Obama's threat to veto any repeal. As you've probably noticed, we've had our difficulties repealing it this year as well.

This is, in large part, a function of the passage of time.

There are things that even the Democrat Obamacare enthusiasts agree are wrong with the law. Whatever else happens, those defects must be fixed.

But after seven years of Americans living with Obamacare, getting access to insurance and healthcare, many of you have come to depend upon it. Few if any of our proposals to repeal it have had the support of more than 15 percent of the American people -- including Republicans. Changes that would continue, or increase, the tens of millions of Americans with no realistic access to Medicaid, Medicare or other adequate health insurance and healthcare, are neither good medicine nor politics.

We have not abandoned our quest, your quest, to improve on Obamacare. What we have come to recognize is that an outright repeal, with or without a replacement, is not politically possible. What is possible is to do better than the Democrats did in fashioning Obamacare while essentially locking us out. What we can do is to start over with the traditional legislative process of staff research, committee hearings with the nation's experts, and full floor debate regarding amendments -- a process that will enable Democrats and Republicans to work together. What we can do is create a process in which facts replace ideological arguments, a process in which every member of the House and Senate has some skin in the game, a process from which can come the best healthcare for all Americans that our representative democracy is capable of creating for the American people.
There's something to the old saying that when you find yourself at the bottom of a deep hole, the first step to getting out is to stop digging. The Republicans continued digging. It hasn't worked. Perhaps it's time to call on Winston Churchill. As Churchill once observed of our democracy, "The Americans will always do the right thing -- after they've exhausted all the alternatives." Now that Congress has pretty well exhausted all the alternatives, perhaps the next step is to do the right thing.

# # #

Endnote
The full story is told by Michael Kurtz and Morgan Peoples:
"During one of his campaigns for governor, Earl Long made a stump appearance before a crowd of farmers in rural St. Tammany Parish. In typical fashion, he promised that if elected, he would have a local road, heavily traveled and full of potholes, widened and paved. Long won the election abnd carried the rural district, but when the legislature convened, he failed to include the promised road work in his agenda of bills. Astonished and furious at this display of gubernatorial duplicity, a large contingent of irate citizens journeyed to Baton Rouge to see Governor Long. Earl would not see them, and they subjected his administrative aide to a barrage of threats and insults. Refusing to leave, they stood their ground and demanded that Long see them. Equally adamant, Earl turned down the impassioned pleas by his aid. The fist-shaking mob gave the aid one last chance, and out of sheer exasperation, he said to Long, "After all, governor, you did promise to have their road paved. What should I tell those people?" With a shrug, Earl replied, "Tell 'em I lied!"
Michael L. Kurtz, Morgan D. Peoples, Earl K. Long: The Saga of Uncle Earl and Louisiana Politics, (LSU Press, 1990), Preface

I will leave to others the search for other possible indicia of similarities between President Trump and the Governors Long, such as, "[Huey] Long became a dictator, disdaining the ordinary processes of constitutional government and flouting the principles of separation of powers. . . . [H]is successors engaged in outrageous acts of personal enrichment, stealing an estimated $100 million from the state [roughly $2 billion today]. . . . [Earl Long] openly practic[ed] spoils politics. He wrecked the state civil service system, fired civil servants for 'political halitosis,' and openly accepted 'campaign contributions' from gamblers and mobsters." Id., p. 9.

# # #

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Acceptable, Available, Affordable Housing

Contents

Is there a right to housing?
Whom are we talking about?
What are their needs; what are the solutions?
Housing in context
What's "affordable"?
Capitalism
Data
Conclusion
____________________

Housing policy is, as President Trump once said of healthcare policy, "an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that [it] could be so complicated." [Michael A. Memoli, "Trump: 'Nobody Knew that Healthcare Could be so Complicated,'" Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2017.]
[For details on polling results and trends regarding the number of Americans who support universal single-payer health care, see Kristen Bialik, "More Americans Say Government Should Ensure Health Care Coverage," Pew Research Center, January 13, 2017 (e.g.: "Currently, 60% of Americans say the government should be responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, compared with 38% who say this should not be the government’s responsibility.").]
Is there a "right" to housing?

At the outset of discussions of any social program is the threshold issue of "rights": to what extent do we have (legally) or feel (morally) an obligation to care for those beyond our own family, community or "tribes" (variously defined)? To what extent do others have a "right" to expect such care from us?

Obviously, if a majority of us believe, and act as if, others have no "rights," and we have no "obligations," that's pretty much a conversation stopper. So let's first try to figure out what we believe about "rights" in general, by considering some comments from others before returning to the matter of "rights" to housing.
"Right. That which is consonant with equity or the light of nature; that which is morally just or due."
-- Oxford English Dictionary (Compact Ed., vol. II, 1971), p. 669, Right, 3.

"Health care is not a right. Housing is not a right. A job is not a right. College is not a right."
-- Joe Walsh, May 4, 2017 (syndicated radio host; former member of Congress)

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." . . .
"Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
-- Jesus, Matthew 22:39, 25:40 (KJ)

"[W]e can see the TRUTH of the true religion of God woven like a GOLDEN THREAD throughout all faiths whose origin is from Him in the form of the GOLDEN RULE."
-- Bahai, Universal House of Justice (with quotes and citations from 16 major religions; emphasis supplied)

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
-- Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for . . . health and well-being . . ., including food, clothing, housing and medical care . . .."
-- United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, December 10, 1948
There remain differences among us as to whether our obligations to others should be fulfilled through governmental programs or non-governmental organizations' efforts. But as we see, virtually all the world's great religions, and nations (UN), are agreed that we do have at least some obligations to fellow members of our species. (Indeed, some would extend this to other animal (and even plant) species as well. Why? For answers see, Frans De Waal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?" (W.W. Norton, 2016), and Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees (Greystone Books, 2016).)

And yet, among Americans, Joe Walsh (above, "Housing is not a right") speaks for the majority.

This is somewhere between ironic and inexplicable, given that over 50% of Americans say "religion is very important in their lives" (the highest of any wealthy nation). How can we square "I've got mine, Jack," shouts of "Get a job," and denying healthcare to tens of millions of Americans, with the Golden Rule and caring for "the least of these"? How can we explain that "57% of Americans disagreed with the statement 'Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,' a higher percentage than in any of the European nations polled. . . . [Or that] 73% said hard work is very important for getting ahead in life compared to a European median of 35%. . . . [And that] nearly six-in-ten in the U.S. (58%) believe allowing everyone to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state is [most] important [, whereas] majorities in all European nations polled in 2011 said guaranteeing that nobody is in need is more important." [Richard Wike, "5 ways Americans and Europeans are Different," Pew Research Center, April 19, 2016.]

In a nation in which a majority holds such beliefs, a nation willing to trust its democracy to a political process fueled (and therefore largely controlled) by the largest campaign donors, it can't be shocking that many elected officials share some donors' belief that "my right to a tax cut trumps (so to speak) your right to come in out of the cold."

Thankfully, there are also thousands of knowledgeable, caring individuals in Iowa and throughout our nation who are trying to do something about insuring every American has decent housing. This blog post is dedicated to them, and addresses the challenges they face.

Whom are we talking about?

Many of us are relatively well housed. Of America's 135 million dwelling units, about 60% (in Iowa and the nation) are single family, detached houses. Others live in condo units or rented apartments. When it comes to housing, these are among the most fortunate, notwithstanding their occasional difficulty paying mortgages, rent, taxes, and utility bills. Thus, with rare exception, housing is not much of an issue for those in the top 20% (annual income $111,000 or more).
["Stats for Stories: American Housing Month," Housing, U.S. Census Bureau, June 2017 ("The 2015 American Community Survey counts almost 135 million housing units in the U.S.: 61.4% are detached single-family homes and 6.3% are mobile homes.") "Most Americans Make It To The Top 20 Percent (At Least For A While)," Planet Money, National Public Radio, May 5, 2014.]
It's a little different story for the homeless -- those roughly 500,000 Americans with no place to call home on any given day. Some have shelter, others are on the streets, or otherwise unsheltered. Some are individuals, including children on their own; some are part of homeless families. They may be chronically homeless or only temporarily so. [Photo credit: unknown.]

Of course, some of those "sheltered" may be couch surfing, or otherwise living in overcrowded conditions shared with other families or friends.

Others may be in a shelter considered unhealthy or otherwise dangerous substandard housing. ("About six million homes in the United States are substandard by American Housing Survey (AHS) standards, a statistic that has seen little change over the last two decades." Dwellings considered substandard have "interior and exterior leaks, signs of pests, and other factors collected by local public health and code enforcement agencies." ["Substandard Housing," National Center for Healthy Housing.
And see, "What Is Substandard Housing?", HomeGuides.sfgate.com ("Substandard housing . . . , often in severe disrepair, [is] housing that poses a risk to the health, safety or physical well-being of its occupants . . . associated with increased risk of disease, crime, social isolation and decreased mental health. . . . Some cases of substandard housing are not so visible. Outdated or dangerous electrical systems, rusting or loose pipes and gas leaks . . . might go unnoticed until an accident happens.")]
Housing can be unsafe for other reasons, such as spousal abuse, or neighborhoods with relatively high levels of violent crime.

The remnants of Americans' prejudice can make it more difficult for some to find housing -- those of a given race, religion, country of origin, new immigrants, or former convicts who've served their time and are trying to reenter society -- regardless of their ability to pay.

But some of those most at risk for becoming homeless are living in "poverty" (defined as an individual with $12,060 annual income or less; $24,600 for a family of four). [Kimberly Amadeo, "Federal Poverty Level: Definition, Guidelines, Chart,"The Balance, February 2, 2017.] Note that "poverty" can result not only from steady employment at a low wage, but also from unsteady, seasonal, or otherwise occasional income (regardless of hourly rate) that doesn't reach an annual total in excess of poverty levels.

The unemployed are an at risk group for housing. "The share of prime-age [American] men (ages 25-54) who are neither working nor looking for work has doubled since the 1970s. . . . [One] in six prime-age men in America are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether -- about 10 million men" -- one of the highest rates in the world. [Derek Thompson, "The Missing Men," The Atlantic, June 27, 2017.]

Another category are those paying over 50 percent of their income for housing. "When more than 50 percent of a poor household’s income goes to paying rent, that household is experiencing what is known as severe housing cost burden. [These are] households . . . more likely to have an unexpected event -- such as loss of employment or unexpected medical costs -- result in . . . homelessness." [The State of Homelessness in America (2016), pp. 48-49, endhomelessness.org.]
[For one of the best collections of data regarding the financial challenges confronting nearly all Americans regardless of income and net worth, presented in 24 pages of graphics and very readable text, see "On Track or Left Behind? Findings from the 2017 Prosperity Now Scorecard, July 2017 Prosperity Now.org, released July 25, 2017.]
What are their needs; what are the solutions?

Although "categories" are listed above, most of those with housing needs have stories that are somewhat unique -- as are the solutions, to the extent possible.

An abused spouse or children may not be lacking shelter; their problem is not a leaky roof, it's the violence to which they're subjected. They need an alternative shelter, or safe house -- along with some legal assistance -- until they can relocate (or the abuser is imprisoned). There may be other reasons why temporary, rather than permanent, housing is the solution.

For those with a "severe housing cost burden," or without the resources even if they used all their earnings for rent, there may be public housing, "affordable housing" required of landlords, or subsidies such as "Section 8." [Housing Act of 1937, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §1437f.]

Housing in context

As with medical specialists who are less aware of a patient's related conditions, so it is with housing. By contrast, some doctors actually make "house calls" -- not to see the patient, but to see the house, and how it might be contributing to the patient's condition.

For example, in addition to the occasional relationship between housing and healthcare, there is often a relationship between housing, educational level and unemployment.

There can be a relationship between housing, poverty and public transportation (or access to a reliable vehicle). If businesses would build housing close enough to their stores or factories that their employees could walk or bike to work -- with rent they could afford on the hourly wages they were paid -- it would solve both the housing challenge and eliminate employees' costs of commuting from the distances necessary to find affordable housing (as well as improving workers' health and the environment). Public buses or trains that run every 10 or 15 minutes (rather than half-hour or hour), and don't require two or three changes from home to work, would help.

Child care, on the job site or nearby, could sometimes make the difference.

Of course, social workers and others are aware of these interrelated needs and solutions -- as they are aware of not having the necessary resources to do what they know needs to be done. Just as there are IEP's (individual education plans) for K-12 students with disabilities, it would help when addressing individuals' "housing in context" challenges to create a plan for every individual who comes into the system that addresses housing, healthcare, nutrition, transportation, training, childcare and whatever other needs and services are relevant.

What's "affordable"?

There is much reference in discussions of housing to so-called "affordable housing," defined as housing that one can obtain for 30% or less of one's income.
"Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States." ["Affordable Housing," Department of Housing and Urban Development.]
"Affordability" is not a very precise concept at best, and is certainly subject to, among other things, almost unlimited potential multiple variables.

Income. Thirty percent of what? What do we count? What do we deduct? Is it what's left after taxes? Which taxes (i.e., federal and state income tax; FICA; sales tax)? What about essential fixed expenses?

Fixed expenses. The minimal, essential expenses for a family of four (or more) will be both different, and far exceed, those for a young, childless single person. Childcare expenses can be significant if there's no grandmother to volunteer. A family paying for grandparents' nursing home costs, or services for a person with a disability, or a mortgage, will have far less for food and other expenses than someone who does not.

Absolute dollars. No one can eat a percentage. Someone in the top 20%, earning $200,000 a year, has $140,000 left over after paying 30% ($60,000; $5,000 a month) for housing. Someone earning the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) and lucky enough to work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year ($14,500 a year) has $10,150 ($846 a month) left over after paying 30% ($4,350, or $362.50 a month -- if such apartments even exist) for housing.

Capitalism

Like a bull in a china shop, or a pig in the parlor, there's nothing inherently wrong with capitalism -- so long as it's kept in its proper place. To protect competitors, employees and consumers some government regulation is often necessary, but "free private enterprise" and "marketplace competition" can produce greater incentives for innovation, productivity and efficiency by business, along with greater choice and lower prices for consumers.

But just as there are some sectors of the economy in which government ownership and operation may not be the optimum approach, there are also other sectors of the economy that seem inappropriate for capitalism.

There are some who seemingly want to privatize everything. But there appears to be at least a significant minority, if not majority, of Americans who recognize the advantages of public ownership and operation of K-12 schools; libraries; national, state, and local parks; and the Interstate Highway system.

Profit-maximizing businesses can have conflicts of interest when providing public goods. Experiments with private ownership of prisons, for example, show that there is an inherent conflict of interest between public policy goals of shorter sentences and alternatives to incarceration and the prison owners' goals of profit maximization: the more people convicted and incarcerated, and the longer their sentences, the greater their profits.

There are doctors and dentists who volunteer in free clinics and elsewhere to provide healthcare to those who otherwise would have to do without. But for the most part healthcare is a private, profit-maximizing industry. As those urging a form of universal, single-payer healthcare say -- a form of healthcare available to citizens in most industrialized countries -- there is a big difference between "health insurance" and "health care." The statistics on such measures as years of life expectancy, or rates of infant mortality, suggest that we are paying more while getting less and serving fewer than those countries. We joke about medical students who want their specialty to be "diseases of the rich," but the fact is that in a capitalist healthcare system everyone from medical professionals, to Big Pharma, to hospitals, to insurance company shareholders and executives would like to be paid more.

Admittedly, there is no more agreement regarding public housing than there is about healthcare. The UN may say, as quoted above, that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for . . . health and well-being" (including housing and healthcare), but there are still individuals who believe that even those without shoes should simply "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." [United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, December 10, 1948.]

Home builders and realtors will, when necessary, build, remodel, sell, or rent homes and condos to those scarcely able to pay. But when their income is calculated as a percentage of the price of their sold homes, or the square footage of those they've built, large, expensive homes for the wealthy are clearly to be preferred over those for the poor. Segregation in our communities is largely perpetuated by housing policies, which are often driven in part by what the upper 20 percent believe to be "the best schools."

A builder of a city center high rise full of condos, who can sell them for a half-million to a million dollars or more, has zero economic incentive to include units that college students, or minimum wage workers, could afford. Of course, a city government that is gifting the builder a portion of construction costs (say, a TIF that reduces the owner's property taxes) has a lot of leverage -- if it will use it -- to insist on some cheaper units. But that's little more than a tiny one-off contribution to the community's housing needs for the poor and working poor.

Which brings us to "data."

Data

Schools don't just open their doors, let children wander in, and go to whatever room they please. Enrollment is limited by the numbers of classrooms, teachers, and desks. And there are precise records of each child, with information about parents or guardians, address, and perhaps special needs.

Successful businesses startups have business plans. The owners have at least some sense of traffic flow as well as revenue flow, the potential population from which they will draw, the competitors who will be offering the same or similar services.

It's not that those giving their lives to providing housing for the poor aren't aware of the value of comparable information about housing, or that they aren't making efforts to try to create it -- sometimes creative, impressive efforts. It's that they are simply not provided the resources they need to gather all the necessary data. They know, better than I, what they need. But here's how it looks from here.

Take Johnson County, Iowa, as an example. It's helpful to have another Habitat for Humanity house here, a shelter house there, a TIF requiring some below-market units in a condo project. But if we really want to get everyone housed, it's not enough to just "do something." We need some basic data about "supply" -- an inventory of what housing we have (whether occupied or not), such as, how many one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments there are, with their locations and rent.

The Census Bureau does a pretty good job of counting and reporting housing units. But apparently the landlords and developers are sometimes reluctant to reveal their rental rates and the number of vacancies.

Equally important, is information about "demand" -- especially regarding persons who can't afford any housing available in the county, and those who are suffering from "severe housing cost burden" (rent exceeding half of their income).

It is the demand side that is the most problematical. Ideally there would be enough social workers that every individual in the county in need of one or another form of assistance would be identified, regularly visited, and assisted in finding, or improving, their housing. Unfortunately, in today's political climate that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

However, gathering one county's housing supply and demand is not a "big data" project -- like the recent White House effort to create a database record of every person registered to vote in America, along with their personal data.

There are only 62,000 housing units in Johnson County, and 59 percent of them are owner-occupied -- presumably most of them by owners who are not in need of housing assistance. The remaining 40 percent would be a number that could fit in a single Excel spreadsheet on anyone's laptop computer.

Conclusion

Meanwhile, four things might help. (1) Think about a county's housing challenges as a whole, rather than one dwelling unit, and occupant, at a time. (2) Prioritize the need to gather as much detailed data as possible about the county's housing supply and demand. (3) Recognize that housing is but one of many interconnected challenges for those in need that can most effectively, and efficiently, be met by recognizing how they are connected. (4) Manage the undertaking with measurable goals, timelines, and public accountability in the form of management information reporting systems.

# # #

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Unfit To Be The Ruler

A Long Train of Abuses

"A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

-- Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

"Whenever the Vice President and a majority of [congressionally designated individuals] transmit to the [President of the Senate and Speaker of the House] their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President."

-- U.S. Constitution, Amendment 25, Section 4, February 10, 1967

With the long holiday weekend, family gatherings, and fireworks displays, few know, and pause to remember, that it is our independence from Britain that we celebrate. Fewer still will give a thought to King George III, let alone acknowledge that Americans were far from unanimous in their desire to escape his rule. Estimates are that 20 to 35% of the colonists opposed independence (with another third undecided).

So it is again today, 241 years later. Americans are once again divided -- and by about the same percentages -- regarding their current King George III replacement: President Donald Trump. A hard core of 29% to 40% support him and 50% to 60% oppose or are undecided (depending on questions asked and events at time of poll). [Rough figures: There are 250 million Americans over 18 (eligible to register), 200 million registered (80% of the 250 M); November 2016 results: Trump 62 million, Clinton 64 million (126 million total about half of those 18+; 60% of those registered.]

It is not the purpose of this piece to put the arguments for or against America's independence from Britain, or arguments for or against the re-election (or impeachment) of President Trump. The purpose is somewhat analogous to the purpose of the prior blog post, "Not All Criticism is Defamation," July 4, 2017 [embedded: "Is Superintendent Criticism 'Defamation'?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 28, 2017, p. 7A] (without taking a position on whether the local school superintendent was deserving of criticism, it simply set forth the basics of defamation law for those arguing the issue).

In other words, for purposes of this blog essay, what were the concerns expressed in the Declaration of Independence regarding the removal of King George III's rule over the colonies, to what extent are they applicable to President Trump, and what are the provisions of the U.S. Constitution regarding the removal of a U.S. president when there are concerns about his or her performance in office?

We begin with excerpts from the Declaration of Independence.

"[Americans] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted . . ..

"[W]when a long train of abuses and usurpations . . . evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government . . .. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good . . . unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. . . . He has obstructed the Administration of Justice . . .. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws . . .. For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world . . ..

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. . . . He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us . . .. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people." [Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons; Sir William Beechey's oil painting of King George III, c. 1800/]

-- Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

There are a number of provisions in the U.S. Constitution that relate to the president's powers, obligations, and the standards for public (and congressional) evaluation of his or her fitness for (or removal from) office.

The offenses justifying consideration of impeachment are relatively specific: treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors. It is a two-step process -- kind of like the (1) indictment, and (2) trial/conviction of a criminal defendant -- with the "indictment" (impeachment) in the House and trial and "conviction" in the Senate.
"The President . . . shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

-- U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4

"The House of Representatives . . . shall have the sole power of impeachment."

-- U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, Clause 5

"The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. . . . Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office . . .."

-- U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, Clauses 6, 7
President Trump has refused to (1) make public the last few years of his tax returns, (2) sell off his assets and put the proceeds in a legitimate "blind trust," -- both customary political norms for presidents -- and (3) continues to benefit financially from foreign governments' payment for use of his properties, special privileges regarding his family's business proposals in other countries, and foreigners' purchases of Trump condo units and other properties in the U.S. This behavior has raised questions about his possible violation of the Constitutional prohibition of presidents' receipt of "emoluments."
"[N]o no person holding any office of [the U.S. government] shall . . . accept of any present, emolument . . . of any kind whatever, from any . . . foreign state."

-- U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8

"The President shall . . . receive for his services, a compensation . . . and he shall not receive . . . any other emolument from the United States, or any of them."

-- U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 7
We know that the most consequential function of a vice president is the possibility of his or her ascension to the presidency. The Constitution refers to this happening because of, for example, the death or resignation of a president. It might also occur following an impeachment and conviction, as discussed above.

But there is additional language in Article II, Section 1, that has recently come into the media and public dialogue, namely the president's "inability to discharge" the responsibilities of the presidency. Without going into detail here, Google searches will reveal that some of the president's critics argue this language does, or should, cover a range of President Trump's offensive behavior, actions, inaction, seeming lack interest in the details of policy and norms of the presidency, failure to nominate persons for essential positions, inability to build bi-partisan coalitions, lack of basic knowledge, and possible mental health issues. (His supporters dismiss such concerns, assert he's entitled to tweet personal attacks on what he perceives as his critics, and that the media is "the enemy of the people.")

Go back and re-read paragraphs seven and eight of this blog post, above, excerpting language from the Declaration of Independence. Notice how many of the colonists' complaints about King George III have their analogous equivalent in critics' complaints about President Trump.
"In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President . . .."

-- U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 6

"Whenever the Vice President and a majority of [congressionally-designated individuals] transmit to the [President of the Senate and Speaker of the House] their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President."*

-- U.S. Constitution, Amendment 25, Section 4
Forgive me this serious interruption of your holiday weekend, but whether you are a Trump supporter or critic, I thought you might find it useful -- today and throughout the months to come -- to have access to the actual language relevant to an evaluation of President Trump's performance.

# # #



* "But the seemingly most insoluble problem was that of presidential inability—Garfield lying in a coma for eighty days before succumbing to the effects of an assassin’s bullet, Wilson an invalid for the last eighteen months of his term, the result of a stroke—with its unanswered questions: who was to determine the existence of an inability, how was the matter to be handled if the President sought to continue, in what manner should the Vice President act, would he be acting President or President, what was to happen if the President recovered." -- Congressional Reference Service.

Not All Criticism is 'Defamation'

Note: To put this piece in context, it is a response to an article in the Iowa City Press-Citizen: Holly Hines, "School Officials' Emails Raise Free Speech Concerns; First Amendment Experts Say Legal Threats May Amount to Intimidation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 24, 2017, p. A1. The story reported and discussed, among other things, that citizens were concerned that they might be sued if they criticized the Iowa City Community School District superintendent. (And see also, Holly Hines, "External Reviewer Sought for School District; Culture Concerning Whistleblowers is Under Investigation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 1, 2016, p. A1.)

Without expressing a view regarding the justification for the criticism, I thought a brief statement of the law of defamation might be useful -- as set forth below. Following Holly Hines story, and my explanation of defamation, the Press-Citizen editorial board published the following editorial: "Alter Culture of Fear in School District," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 1, 2017, p. 7A (the Press-Citizen only publishes an opinion page on Wednesdays and Saturdays.) Here is my brief explanation on June 28th:

Is Superintendent Criticism 'Defamation'?
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 28, 2017, p. 7A

There’s a local issue regarding limits on citizens’ criticism of school superintendents. Can the critics be sued for defamation?

I won’t take sides on whether the criticism is warranted. Moreover, social norms may be more relevant than “the law.” In either case, one’s reputation is a thing of value. [Citizen Julie VanDyke speaking to ICCSD School Board members; photo credit: Sandhya Dirks/Iowa Public Radio]

Not all criticism is defamatory. There must be an unambiguous, clearly false, factual statement (not just opinion), that causes measurable harm to one’s reputation among a relevant group (such as potential employers or customers).

The false assertion that a superintendent stole $97,000 from the schools’ playground fund could be defamation. Saying, “I think he’s doing a lousy job” would not be.

Moreover, the Supreme Court has ruled that while citizens need only show falsity, public officials must prove “that the statement was made ... with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” Why? Because protection of political speech lies at the heart of First Amendment guarantees.

As Justice Brenan wrote in New York Times v. Sullivan, “[we have] a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

This is for newspaper readers only, not legal advice. If you’re involved in a defamation case, get a lawyer.

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City
# # #

Monday, May 29, 2017

Kushner's Back-Channel Multiple Tragedies

Whether you think President Trump has taken unfair advantage of National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, or you blame them from going along with his inappropriate demands, either way it's a tragedy.

Much has been written about Jared Kushner's collusion with Russian officials, while a private citizen, to make use of Russian networks to set up a secret back-channel for communication between the Trump Team and the Kremlin that would be unknown to, and incapable of surveillance by, U.S. security agencies. Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous and Greg Miller, "Russian Ambassador Told Moscow that Kushner Wanted Secret Communications Channel with Kremlin," Washington Post, May 26, 2017; Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Trump Returns to Crisis over Kushner as White House Tries to Contain It," New Yiork Times, May 28, 2017, p. A1; Abby Phillip and Max Ehrenfreund, "As White House Defends Jared Kushner, Experts Question His Back-Channel Move," Washington Post, May 29, 2017. And see, "Trump's 'Just Politics' Defense," May 28, 2017.

The reaction of former CIA and NSA Director, Michael Hayden, was typical of many experienced with such matters: “What manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt, would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or appropriate idea? . . . This is off the map. I know of no other experience like this in our history, certainly within my life experience.” Adam Kelsey, Riley Beggin and John Santucci, "Kushner Asked Russian Ambassador for Back Channel on Syria and Other Policy Matters," ABC News, May 27, 2017.

What Kushner was proposing was not, after all, what is normally understood by a "back-channel." Back-channels are created by, and certainly known to, U.S. intelligence services. Most often, in my understanding, they would involve the use of individuals' face-to-face communication, not the use of an adversary's secure communications network. They would not be created by private citizens for the purpose of secret communications to and from our nation's adversaries, communications that were being deliberately kept from our own government.

It's understandable that the Trump Team would want to defend itself from this additional blow to the credibility of their insistence that there was no collusion with the Russians. In doing so they could draw upon a number of the Crisis Communications 101 arrows in their quiver. That's the way a White House under siege responds. We're used to that.

What I find tragic about the way they've gone about it is their dragging federal officials with otherwise strong reputations for integrity into the spotlight, and into guest slots on the Sunday TV shows, to be the Trump Team's spokesperson-defenders of the indefensible. These performances have not helped Trump all that much, but have done probably irredeemable harm to the reputations and effectiveness of those officials.

They have used talking points (presumably provided them) that, while not outright lies, are clearly designed to be duplicitous and misleading. When Trump provided code-name intelligence to the Russians, while visiting in the White House Oval Office, there were a number of things wrong with what he did. For one, the intelligence had come from another country with the understanding it would not be shared with others. For another, the nature of the revelation, including where it had been gathered, would make it easy for the Russians to figure out the "sources and methods" that had been used.

Trump's National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, was called upon to handle that one, and said that the stories about what happened were false because Trump had not revealed "sources and methods." But the stories he was saying were false had not said that Trump did reveal sources and methods. The stories had dealt with all the other things wrong with what Trump had done. Nonetheless, McMaster's statements were designed to, and did, leave the impression that Trump did nothing wrong.

The same approach was more recently used with regard to Kushner's back-channel proposal to the Russians. This time both McMaster, and Secretary of Homeland Security, General John Kelly (on ABC's Sunday morning show), were sent out to say not only that what he did was "no big deal," but that back-channel communications are common and actually beneficial when dealing with our adversaries.

Once again, to say that back-channel communications are common and beneficial is true. But that statement is not even relevant, let alone a defense or justification for what Kushner did, and may well have been a violation of the Logan Act among other things.

Trump had earlier asked other officials to give statements to the media defending his actions. Those officials refused. This time they agreed.

There is much wrong with this approach.

For one, it is grossly unfair. It's kind of like asking your best friend to appear in court as a witness on your behalf and commit perjury to save you from prison. It's not a decent way to treat members of your Administration. There is a better alternative when the President has done something wrong or questionable: that's what Press Secretary Sean Spicer is for.

Moreover, it weakens the ability of those officials to help the Administration by doing well the jobs they have been appointed to do. It means the public, legislators and judges, our allies and adversaries, and the media will be less likely to believe anything they say in the future. There's some question as to whether the sitting National Security Adviser should be going public with statements about anything. That is not a position for a "personality." It is a serious, more than full time, largely classified responsibility.

And those are just some of "Kushner's Back-Channel Multiple Tragedies."

Here are some comments of others along similar lines: Anders Corr, "On Russia-Kushner Backchannel, Trump's H.R. McMaster and John Kelly Show Lack of Judgment," Forbes, May 28, 2017; Thomas Ricks, "General McMaster, Step Down -- and Let Trump be Trump; Save Your Reputation While You Still Can, the Country Will be Fine," Politico Magazine, May 28, 2017.

# # #

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Trump's 'Just Politics' Defense

And see, "Resources for Trump Watchers"

What's the relationship between the Alt-Right, Russia, and Trump? When historians look back on the Trump Phenomenon decades from now, with its damage to American democracy and government, and democratic movements around the world, the answer to that question may well be seen as far more significant than the answer to "who on the Trump Team talked to whom in the Russian government, when, and about what?".
How could you believe me when I said I love you
When you know I've been a liar all my life
I've had that reputation since I was a youth
You must have been insane to think I'd tell you the truth
How could you believe me when I said we'd marry
When you know I'd rather hang than have a wife
I know I said I'd make you mine
But who would know that you would go for that old line
How could you believe me when I said I love you
When you know I've been a liar
Nothing but a liar, all my doggone cheatin' life
-- Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, "How Could You Believe Me (When I Told You That I Loved You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life)" [said to be one of the longest popular song titles ever]

It was put to music and dance by Fred Astaire and Jane Powell in the movie, "Royal Wedding" (1951):


Contents
(1) Russian Interference

(2) Collusion

(3) Russian Business

(4) The Alt-Right International

(5) Trump's Defense


It's neither that I feel sorry for Donald Trump, nor that I'm thinking of supporting him for reelection in 2020 -- if he makes it that far. But as the revelations continue to flow it's intriguing to think about what defenses he might have to wherever the evidence finally leads his investigators.

Let's walk through this together.

(1) Russian interference. By now there seems to be general agreement that Russians, probably with Vladimir Putin's personal participation or orders, intended to, and succeeded in, interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, with the intentiion of preventing the election of Hillary Clinton and aiding the election of Donald Trump. It also seems to be widely believed (though there is no way of proving) that (a) there was no direct interference by Russians with voting machines or vote counting, or that (b) this interference was the factor in swinging enough votes to Trump to produce his Electoral College victory.

However serious these charges may be, however criminal those Russians' actions may have been, however much the U.S. must escalate its anti-cyberwar defenses for future elections, taken alone they do not support charges that Trump, or members of his team, did anything wrong.

(2) Collusion. Certainly, the most serious possible charge is that Trump, or members of his campaign staff, with or without Trump's knowledge and/or participation, "colluded" with the Russians and their efforts.

"Collusion" is variously defined as "a secret understanding between two or more persons to gain something illegally," "a secret agreement, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; conspiracy."

There seems to be an increasing quantity of circumstantial evidence to support an inference of "collusion." There were a disproportionate number of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials (compared with their contacts with other nations' officials). So the opportunity would have been there. Even if all those contacts were totally innocent, efforts by those involved, and then the Trump Administration, to deny or otherwise cover up or falsify the full extent of their existence raises additional suspicions. Philip Bump, "The Web of Relatilonships Between Team Trump and Russia," The Washington Post, March 3, 2017 (involving possibly Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Roger Stone, and others yet unknown).

And it doesn't help that Trump's son-in-law and all-portfolios presidential adviser, Jared Kushner, offered collusion to Russia's U.S. Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. But (a) this was a proposal for a secret, general-purpose communications back-channel between the Trump Team and the Kremlin (using Russian communications channels) that could not be tracked by the U.S. government, not so far as I know, collusion with regard to electing Trump, and (b) it was rejected by the stunned Russian Ambassador. Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Trump Returns to Crisis Over Kushner as White House Tries to Contain It," New York Times, May 28, 2017, p. A1; and Maggie Haberman, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, "Kushner Is Said to Have Discussed a Secret Channel to Talk to Russia," New York Times, May 27, 2017, p. A1.

The reaction of former CIA and NSA Director, Michael Hayden? “What manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt, would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or appropriate idea? . . . This is off the map. I know of no other experience like this in our history, certainly within my life experience.” Adam Kelsey, Riley Beggin and John Santucci, "Kushner Asked Russian Ambassador for Back Channel on Syria and Other Policy Matters," ABC News, May 27, 2017.

Certainly there is no proof that there was not collusion. But as we all know, proving a negative is difficult, and so the burden of proof (often "proof beyond a reasonable doubt") falls upon those alleging wrongdoing, not those who are charged.

Of course, there was Trump's "suggestion" during the campaign: "'Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,' Mr. Trump said . . . in an apparent reference to Mrs. Clinton's deleted emails. 'I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.'" Ashley Parker and David E. Sanger, "Donald Trump Calls on Russia to Find Hillary Clinton's Missing Emails," New York Times, July 28, 2016, p. A1. But that, alone, doesn't prove an "understanding" or "secret agreement" -- and could be trivialized by Trump as nothing more than an unsuccessful attempt at humor.

Based only on statements by public officials and media revelations (I no longer have top secret clearance or access to more) my guesses at this time, and that's all they can be, are that (a) while there had been what could fairly be called "collusion" in promoting the election of Trump, (b) at the end of the day investigators will not have enough evidence to prove it.

(3) Russian business. There is significant evidence of Trump's numerous efforts, and success, in financial transactions with Russians. Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Michael Birnbaum, "Inside Trump's Financial Ties to Russia and His Unusual Flattery of Vladimir Putin," The Washington Post, June 17, 2016 ("Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world. . . . 'Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,' Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, . . .. 'We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.'").

"[Donald Trump purchased the Palm Beach, Florida] house . . . 'Maison de l'Amitie,' or the House of Friendship . . . in 2004 . . . paying $41 million . . .. He intended to flip it for a quick -- and huge -- profit. . . . The property sat on the market for about two years . . . . It wasn’t at all clear who might pay Trump three times his buying price . . . amid a looming recession. In the summer of 2008, Trump found a solution . . . one of the world’s hundred richest men . . . Russian billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev. . . . Rybolovlev had made his fortune in the wild west of 1990s post-Soviet Russia. . . . He would pay Trump $95 million for Maison L’Amitie . . . the most expensive U.S. residential property sale ever." Michael Crowley, "Trump and the Oligarch," Politico, July 28, 2016.

4.The Alt-Right International. Any label we put on an individual (e.g., "athlete," "Catholic," "Republican"), including ourselves, is a futile effort. We are each a complex array of characteristics -- and those characteristics are always changing. To categorize people with a single label communicates both too much, and far too little, about the person labeled. And if you can't do it for a single individual, you certainly can't do it for a group.

So it is with Trump voters -- or Trump himself -- indeed, "members" of almost any social-political movement.

Nonetheless, the role of the Alt-Right in the 2016 presidential election, and Trump's identification with many of its goals, has been a proportionately under-reported part of Trump's Russian connections.
Trump is a hero to the Alt-Right. Through a series of semi-organized campaigns, Alt-Right activists applied [a] slur to every major Republican primary candidate except Trump, who regularly rails against “political correctness,” Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, Chinese and others. They have also worked hard to affix the Alt Right brand to Trump through the use of hashtags and memes.
"Alternative Right," Southern Poverty Law Center

Few of us know much about the Alt-Right: 54% know nothing at all, and 28% know only "a little." John Gramlich, "Most Americans Haven't Heard of the 'Alt-Right,'" FacTank, Pew Research Center, December 12, 2016. Here's some more description from the Southern Poverty Law Center:
"[The Alt-Right] is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that 'white identity' is under attack by multicultural forces [trying] to undermine white people and 'their' civilization . . . that favors experimentation with the ideas of the French New Right; libertarian thought . . . [and] anarcho-capitalism, which advocates individual sovereignty and open markets in place of an organized state . . .. [T]he movement in 2015 and 2016 concentrated on opposing immigration and the resettlement of Syrian refugees in America. . . . [It] is . . . a version of an ideology popular in Europe that emphasizes cultural and racial homogeneity within different countries. . . . [T]he movements on both continents are similar in accusing older conservatives for selling out their countries to foreigners. . . . While some Alt-Right leaders are unquestionably anti-Semitic, others [see] Jews simply as white people. . . . Social media have been instrumental to the growth of the Alt-Right['s] legions of anonymous Twitter users . . .."
So, what's the relationship between the Alt-Right, Russia, and Trump? When historians look back on the Trump Phenomenon decades from now, with its damage to American democracy and government, and democratic movements around the world, the answer to that question may well be seen as far more significant than the answer to "who on the Trump Team talked to whom in the Russian government, when, and about what?".

A major factor in Trump's connection to the Alt-Right is the fact that his former Campaign CEO, and then White Houise Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, was a prominent promoter of the Alt-Right and Chair of Breitbart News. "Bannon once described Breitbart News in an interview with the Investigative Fund as the 'platform for the alt-right' . . .. It's a brand of far-right conservatism that generally embraces and promotes white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny." Jessica Roy, "What is the Alt-Right? A Refresher Course on Steve Bannon's Fringe Brand of Conservatism," Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2016.

Here more excerpts from just a couple of the relevant articles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as a hero of several prominent alt-right figures, raising new questions about the Kremlin's influence on the far-right, white nationalist movement that has asserted itself as a new force in American politics.

[T]he extent to which the alt-right has found a natural ally in Russia's current zeitgeist — which perceives the US as a globalist, imperialist power working on behalf of liberal elites — is hard to overstate.

Self-described white nationalist Matthew Heimbach, . . . a member of the alt-right, has praised Putin's Russia as "the axis for nationalists."

“I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now. . . . Putin is supporting nationalists around the world and building an anti-globalist alliance, while promoting traditional values and self-determination. . . . This isn’t just a European or a right-wing movement," he said. "We're trying to position ourselves to be a part of this worldwide movement of globalism versus nationalism. It's a new age." . . .

[A]lt-right leader Richard Spencer . . . has argued that the US should dispense with its globalist policies by pulling out of NATO, resetting its relationship with Russia, and courting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad . . .. [H]e has called [Russia] the “sole white power in the world," . . ..
Natasha Bertrand, "'A Model for Civilization': Putin's Russia Has Emerged as 'a Beacon for Nationalists' and the American Alt-Right," Business Insider, December 10, 2016

"In boosting Trump and funding fringe parties in Europe, Russia has helped construct a new kind of 'comintern' —and it's even more effective than the Cold War version." Mike Lofgren, "Trump, Putin, and the Alt-Right International," The Atlantic, October 31, 2016. (If you are unfamiliar with "comintern," it is short for the Communist International (or "Third International"), an international communist organization that advocated world communism (1919-1943).)

The Atlantic article also comments:
We are now witnessing a curious phenomenon: The resurgent far-right parties in numerous Western countries, which harp incessantly on the sovereignty, independence, and world-historical uniqueness of whichever country they happen to live in, have self-organized into a transnational alt-right “comintern” that appears to be more effective than the leftist comintern of the Soviet era. No doubt this development was inevitable in the age of digital communication, but it has undeniably received a boost from the Kremlin. It also bears emphasis not only that Russia is attempting to influence politics in Western nations, but that this influence comes prepackaged with a specific ideological content.
5. Trump's Defense. This is probably one of those "not all Trump supporters are affiliated with the Alt-Right, but all (or nearly all) voters who lean Alt-Right were probably Trump voters."

Just a guess, but there were probably large percentages of both Clinton and Trump voters who had never heard of the Alt-Right, or were at least unaware of its orientation and significance -- including Trump's ties to the movement.

If The Alt-Right International is, in fact, as pro-Russian, pro-authoritarian, anti-government, anti-democracy a threat to nations' democratic and human rights movements as I believe it to be, what could possibly be Trump's defense to his complicity in its rise?

Ironically, his best defense could be his well-documented propensity to lie.
"Donald Trump is in a different category. The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent. . . . Trump seems to lie for the pure joy of it. A whopping 70 percent of Trump’s statements that PolitiFact checked during the campaign were false, . . . 4 percent were completely true, and 11 percent mostly true. . . . 26 percent of [Hillary Clinton's] statements were deemed false." Maria Konnikova, "Trump's Lies vs. Your Brain," Politico Magazine, January/February 2017.

And for a catalog of examples see, Alan Yuhas, "How Does Donald Trump Lie? A Fact Checker's Final Guide," The Guardian, November 07, 2016 (a catalog of examples)
As this blog post begins, "How could you believe me . . . when you know I've been a liar all my life?" Having shown a gymnast's ability to leap from one side of an argument to the other, he may be able to pull it off with this "just politics" defense.

"Hey, folks, I was only kidding. You know how it is about politics," he might say. "I don't believe in that Alt-Right stuff. Steve Bannon told me it could help us rack up more votes, bring some folks to the polls who would not otherwise have voted. Turned out he was right."

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